Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Hope Diamond

Of course, no article about notable diamonds would be complete without mentioning the Hope. This 45.52 fancy deep blue diamond is gorgeous, to be sure, but also deadly - at least according to some. The Hope’s story starts with the Tavernier Blue, a crudely cut triangular stone of about 115 carats that was sold to King Louis XIV in 1669. Several years later, Louis had the stone cut down to about 67 carats and had it suspended on a gold ribbon so he could wear it on formal occasions. He renamed the new cut the “French Blue.” In the mid 1700s, Louis XV had the gem set into a pendant and it was much speculated that Marie Antoinette wore it; the curse is the reason she was beheaded. Not so, say most historians: there’s no evidence that it ever adorned the doomed Queen. The French Blue mysteriously disappeared in a jewel heist in 1792 and never turned up again. However, the Hope Diamond suddenly arrived on the scene just as the statute of limitations on the jewel heist was running out 20 years later. It happened to be the exact same color as the missing French Blue, although it had been cut differently and was decidedly smaller. The Hope had several British owners throughout the 1800s, although, surprisingly, it never came into the hands of the Royal Family. By 1910, famed jeweler Pierre Cartier had acquired the blue beauty and sold it to American socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean. She wasn’t interested until he reset the old stone in a modern setting and told her tales of the curse. She wore the stone for 37 years (and often let her dog wear it around the house as well) and left it to her grandchildren upon her death in 1947. However, she was quite in debt, and her trustees ended up selling it in order to pay of some of the money she owed. That’s how Harry Winston ended up owning it until 1958, when he decided that it belonged to the Smithsonian and sent it there in an uninsured brown paper envelope. It’s still part of the Smithsonian today, and so is the envelope.

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